MERRILLVILLE | The Radisson at Star Plaza Hotel was the Region's premier gathering space with 30,000 square feet of conference space — until it closed for good on New Year's Eve.
The upscale new hotel that will replace the Radisson at Star Plaza in 2018 was slated to have only 12,000 square feet of meeting space, which tourism officials worried would cost the Region a significant amount of conventions, tourists and visitor spending.
But owner White Lodging is now looking to boost the amount of conference space in the new hotel. Construction will start later this year.
"We've decided to increase the size of the meeting space in the new hotel, to a total of between 16,000 and 20,000 total square feet of meeting space," White Lodging Services Director of Communications Kathleen Quilligan Sebastian said. "This includes a 10,000 square foot ballroom that can accommodate 500-plus people."
Public feedback prompted White Lodging executives to increase the size of the ballroom in the planned hotel, the same way it moved them to save the Star Plaza Theatre from demolition.
More meeting space at the new hotel potentially could bring back some of the annual conferences and other events some tourism officials feared might be lost forever, although the new hotel's conference facilities will at most be two-thirds as large as before.
"Similar to the theater decision, we heard from the community they wanted more meeting space," Sebastian said. "Since it opened, the Radisson was always a key hub in the community, and we want to continue and enhance that legacy with the new property."
The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority estimates the conference facilities at the Radisson at Star Plaza contributed $20 million a year to the local economy.
About 90 different conventions booked 11,000 hotels rooms there annually. The Radisson at Star Plaza hosted the Ramencon Anime Convention, the Kappa Delta Phi National Convention, the ATA Black Belt Academy Regional Conference, the American Cue Sports Alliance and many other gatherings.
Chris "Ramencon" Kaemerer moved Ramencon to South Bend in 2017, but said he will bring it back to Merrillville when the new hotel is built.
"I might have to limit the size of the convention," he said. "The Radisson website claims their space was 30,000 square feet. So the new location will be interesting to see but yes we will be back."